True Power

One day a famous congressman stopped by a diner for breakfast with his entourage. Upon entering the diner, the customers and staff swarmed around the congressman attempting to shake his hand, take his picture, or have him kiss their baby. As the congressman made his way to his table, his snappy requests with the staff made it clear that he expected to be served more diligently than the other patrons. Things came to a crescendo when the congressman demanded more butter for his toast to one of his servers who unlike the rest didn’t seem to provide him the special attention he expected. After the third request, the congressman ran out of patience and asked his server if he knew who he was. The server respond, “Why yes of course,” and asked the congressman if he knew who he was. The congressman looking dumbfounded by the question, blurted out, “no.” In which the server responded, “congressman, I am the person with the butter.”

In any exchange the one with the power is not always the one with the authority. We see two examples of this in Sura 27 of the Quran regarding the history of Solomon.

In the following verse we see Solomon’s dialogue with one of his subordinates, the hoopoe. Clearly in this dynamic, Solomon had the authority as he made it clear that he could choose to sacrifice the hoopoe if he so wished.

[27:20] He inspected the birds, and noted: “Why do I not see the hoopoe? Why is he missing? [27:21] “I will punish him severely or sacrifice him, unless he gives me a good excuse.”

Despite this, the hoopoe had one key advantage that Solomon did not have: certain knowledge, which in this case was about the people of Sheba.

[27:22] He did not wait for long. (The hoopoe) said, “I have news that you do not have. I brought to you from Sheba, some important information. [27:23] “I found a woman ruling them, who is blessed with everything, and possesses a tremendous palace. [27:24] “I found her and her people prostrating before the sun, instead of GOD. The devil has adorned their works in their eyes, and has repulsed them from the path; consequently, they are not guided.” [27:25] They should have been prostrating before GOD, the One who manifests all the mysteries in the heavens and the earth, and the One who knows everything you conceal and everything you declare. [27:26] GOD: there is no other god beside Him; the Lord with the great dominion. [27:27] (Solomon) said, “We will see if you told the truth, or if you are a liar. [27:28] “Take this letter from me, give it to them, then watch for their response.”

Even though Solomon was clearly more powerful in authority than the hoopoe, the knowledge that the hoopoe had that Solomon did not made him the one with more power in the exchange.

The second example occurred when Solomon asked one of the elders to bring him the Queen of Sheba’s palace.

[27:38] He said, “O you elders, which of you can bring me her mansion, before they arrive here as submitters?”

The first one to respond was one of the strong and powerful jinns, an afrit. One would assume because of his strength he would be able to get it faster than the others.

[27:39] One afrit from the jinns said, “I can bring it to you before you stand up. I am powerful enough to do this.”

But we see in the following verse that it was not the strongest of them who was able to get the palace the fastest, but instead the one who had knowledge.

[27:40] The one who possessed knowledge from the book said, “I can bring it to you in the blink of your eye.” …

Again we see that the one with the real power was not the one with more authority or the one with more strength, but the one with the most knowledge.

[27:40]…When he saw it settled in front of him, he said, “This is a blessing from my Lord, whereby He tests me, to show whether I am appreciative or unappreciative. Whoever is appreciative is appreciative for his own good, and if one turns unappreciative, then my Lord is in no need for him, Most Honorable.”

Knowledge, Authority & Wisdom

There are many lessons in Sura 27, The Ant/Al-Naml, regarding Solomon and the understanding between knowledge, authority, and wisdom.

The first thing we learn about Solomon was that he was bestowed with knowledge.

[27:15] We endowed David and Solomon with knowledge, and they said, “Praise GOD for blessing us more than many of His believing servants.”

The second thing we learn about Solomon was that he was the heir of David, making him a king, along with some of the knowledge that was bestowed upon Solomon.

[27:16] Solomon was David’s heir. He said, “O people, we have been endowed with understanding the language of the birds, and all kinds of things have been bestowed upon us. This is indeed a real blessing.”

We then see that Solomon had a vast army of jinns, humans, and birds at his disposal.

[27:17] Mobilized in the service of Solomon were his obedient soldiers of jinns and humans, as well as the birds; all at his disposal.

So far we see the that Solomon had knowledge and authority, but it is not until his interaction with the ants do we see his first sign or wisdom.

[27:18] When they approached the valley of the ants, one ant said, “O you ants, go into your homes, lest you get crushed by Solomon and his soldiers, without perceiving.” [27:19] He smiled and laughed at her statement, and said, “My Lord, direct me to be appreciative of the blessings You have bestowed upon me and my parents, and to do the righteous works that please You. Admit me by Your mercy into the company of Your righteous servants.”

This is evident that despite having knowledge and authority that he was still concerned with the well being of the smallest of creatures and even more-so that he does not take such blessings for granted.

There is a correlation with power and unappreciation. We see this throughout the Quran that the more God gives his servants the more unappreciative they become.

[74:11] Let Me deal with one I created as an individual. [74:12] I provided him with lots of money. [74:13] And children to behold. [74:14] I made everything easy for him. [74:15] Yet, he is greedy for more.

[16:112] GOD cites the example of a community that used to be secure and prosperous, with provisions coming to it from everywhere. But then, it turned unappreciative of GOD’s blessings. Consequently, GOD caused them to taste the hardships of starvation and insecurity. Such is the requital for what they did.

We also see this proven in countless studies.

But there is another mechanism at work that causes people to become unappreciative. Typically, people who are wealthier are busier, and place have a higher value on their time. Therefore, they are more likely to prioritize their own concerns above the concerns of others. This can cause people to become self-centered and less sympathetic to the needs of others. A famous example of this was the good samaritan experiment.

In the case of Solomon, despite having tremendous authority and wealth he still paused to listen to the concerns of single ant, and used that moment to reflect on God for all the blessings that He bestowed upon him.